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Aging sex offenders have nowhere to go, Iowa prison director says

Jerry Bartruff supports study to examine building a facility

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CORALVILLE — Iowa Department of Corrections Director Jerry Bartruff said he supports legislation to study whether Iowa should build a facility for geriatric sex offenders — a growing group of inmates.

That’s because finding places for elderly sex offenders to live after they’ve served their time in prison is very difficult, Bartruff said Monday during a community forum in Coralville. Iowa recently had three sex offenders who had served their time, but because they had no place to go, died behind bars.

“That’s a sad commentary for those individuals,” he said.

Senate Resolution 7, which has been placed on the calendar for the Human Resources committee, would ask the Legislative Council to create a committee to study the establishment of a facility to care for geriatric individuals who are registered sex offenders or who are sexually aggressive.

Aging inmates are a challenge across the country.

Inmates age 50 and older were the fastest-growing segment of the federal inmate population, increasing 25 percent from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2013, the Office of Inspector General reported. Inmates age 50 and older made up 16 percent of Iowa’s prison population last year, Bartruff said.

“About 10 years ago, the number of people over age 50 was 800. Now it’s at 1,400,” he said. “As people age and are sicker, there is a cost that goes along with that.”

Although 78 percent of Iowa sex offenders serving time are considered low to moderate risk to reoffend, there have been high-profile cases of abuse in Iowa care facilities.

William Cubbage, a convicted sex offender reportedly with dementia, was accused in 2011 of molesting a 95-year-old woman at a Pomeroy nursing home, the Des Moines Register reported. Cubbage now has been charged with grabbing a female care provider between the legs at the Mental Health Institute in Independence, where he was a patient.

Matthew Sperfslage, a social worker at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Coralville, told people gathered for the community forum sponsored by the Johnson County Task Force on Aging about the challenges of finding community placement for an aging sex offender.

Social workers help offenders find places to live at least 2,000 feet from schools and child care centers, as well as assist with identifying transportation, health care and a guardian, if necessary. If the offender has health needs, such as dementia, diabetes or depression, he may need nursing care, Sperfslage said.

“It becomes a really difficult process to put someone in a safe situation in the community with the services they need,” Bartruff added. “Matt and his co-workers are on the phone constantly.”

Iowa’s spending on prescription medications for prison inmates has started to climb because of a growing population of older inmates and some wildly-expensive drugs, Bartruff said.

He pointed to a promising new drug for hepatitis C, which afflicts many people in prison, that costs more than $50,000. While prison inmates are required to get the same level of health care as patients on the outside, it becomes a difficult question of what medications the prisons can provide, he said.

After spending $9 million in fiscal 2008 on drugs and biological medications, the Corrections Department whittled that down to about $5.5 million in fiscal 2013 by developing a centralized pharmacy. Last year, the agency’s spending had crept up to just under $7 million.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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